London Bridge as it is today, rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona
London Bridge as it is today, rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona Contributed

London Bridge not falling down

SOME more-cynical Americans had a bit of a chuckle when they heard that business magnate Robert McCulloch was buying the 140-year old London Bridge, and shipping it from England to Arizona to attract tourists to a new development he was planning for the middle of the desert.

But they should have known better than to laugh at a man who had made a  fortune from selling the chainsaws that bore his name, and turning the profits of these sales into other equally prosperous engineering and oil enterprises.

Mr McCulloch had heard that the historic circa-1831 London Bridge was to be pulled down and sold because it was sinking into the River Thames, a bit like in the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down...”

Simply, the bridge was the victim of its own immense weight, and as well was succumbing to the burden of tens of thousands of cars, trucks and buses that crossed it every day.

So much so that in 1968 the City of London Corporation knew it would have to replace the bridge. But what to do with the old one?

Enter bureaucrat Ivan Luckin, who came up with the idea that the corporation sell it as an antique, albeit a very large antique.

The idea crashed like a lead balloon, with not a single expression of interest in buying the bridge when it was advertised world-wide. Then Mr McCulloch arrived on the scene, hinting he was willing to part with a sizeable sum to have the bridge help put his Arizona real estate development on the map. 

And when the shrewd American billionaire pointed out that the “antique” bridge London was trying to sell him was only built in 1831, Ivan Luckin had a ready answer.

“London Bridge is not just a bridge,” he pointed out in true Sir Humphrey style. “It is the heir to 2,000 years of history. It goes back to the First Century AD. To the Roman times. To when this place was known as Londinium...”

Mr McCulloch was won over, paying US$2.46 million for the old structure, and a further $7.5 million to have it dismantled and each stone block numbered to ensure it was replaced in the correct position.

On top of that he had to ship it across the Atlantic to Arizona.

Folklore has it that McCulloch decided on what he was willing to bid for the bridge by doubling the cost of pulling it down, and then adding $1000 for every year of what his age would be when its reconstruction was completed.

His answer to this? “Hogwash.”

And when he rebuilt London Bridge it was not over a river or a creek but on a dry-land peninsula in Lake Havasu, a man-made waterway around which he had planned his project.

Once the bridge was completed in 1971 a canal was dug through the peninsula and under the bridge, and Lake Havasu City and its famous London Bridge were open for business.

But Mr McCulloch and his teamed had actually cheated a bit. To ensure their new tourist attraction didn’t sink into the ground like it had in London, a steel framework was first built and this was then clad with the stone from the London Bridge.

And when he found he had some stone left over, the entrepreneurial Mr McCulloch used this to create miniature London Bridge souvenirs which continue to sell in his Lake Havasu City souvenir shops to this day… making one wonder just how much stone was “left over.”

Today Lake Havasu City is a thriving community, with many residents originally tourists who had come to see the London Bridge – and become so enthralled with the location, climate and golf courses that they ended up buying homes and settling there.

And despite those cynics who said Mr McCulloch had been duped into buying the pretty ordinary London Bridge and not the famous Tower Bridge with its roadway that opened to allow ships to pass through, it didn’t take long for the bridge to become one of Arizona’s top tourist attractions.

And to his dying day in 1977, Robert McCulloch insisted he had never believed he was buying the iconic Tower Bridge that still opens two or three times daily so small ships can pass through.

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